To see an elephant in such a vulnerable position and under stress does not come easy … the collar would safeguard him, I reminded myself. Critical information will emerge by monitoring this unique elephant bull; the more we learn about his habits, the more understanding exists to chart a harmonious coexistence with people. That’s the vision of Elephants Alive that I share wholeheartedly … I played this over and over in my mind while with the elephant.
It is quite a thing to sedate an elephant as there are high degrees of stress and risk involved. Once darted from the air, the team of vets, conservationists and the Elephants Alive crew were on hand within minutes. The team worked fast; collar fitted, measurements and DNA samples taken. The great elephant was cooled with water; his eye shaded with a folded-over ear; his breathing checked.
Next to him now.
The touch of his skin and delicate ears. His magnificent ivory. Graceful eyelashes. Padded feet and tender soles; such gentleness. The deep resonating breaths. An elephant is many things for many people; an animal so robust and powerful yet so velvety and astonishingly fragile. Bemusing. Marvellous. Surely an indelible work of art to be protected in Africa’s tapestry of landscapes forever.
C’mon Mondzweni, get up! Slowly, rocking himself back onto his feet, the elephant stood, and began to emerge from the depths. This was the moment I was praying for since the day began. All was well; the collar had been fitted, but only now was the operation a success. I watched him turn, and as he gingerly dusted his gigantic body and caressed the new thing around his neck, he slowly drifted off, soon blending and vanishing in the greenery. Astonished observer. What an experience to be so close to this magnificent animal, to be a part of the operation and to discover so much. I am sincerely touched by the empathy and dedication of all involved … thank you to legendary pilot Gerry McDonald, vets Joel Alves and Ben Muller, conservationists Lyle Wiggens, Edwin Pierce and Hannes Zowitsky…and of course to Michelle Henleyand the incredible Elephants Alive crew; Anke, Jessica, Joel, Kayla, Robin, Ronny & Tammy.